Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico
Date: Tuesday 10th March 2015
Position: 18:04.68N 65:47.75W
Our stay in the marina at Ponce had extended to ten days, far longer than we had planned, but the strong easterly winds had ruled out any attempt to try to make our way further along the coast. However it looked as though a brief weather window was opening up for Saturday 7th March so we thought that we would leave very early in the morning and try to get past the south coast of the island using the effect of the reduction in wind that often occurs at night.
We left the marina in the afternoon of Thursday 6th and dropped our anchor in the anchorage just a few metres away from the marina. The signs were not good as the wind was still blowing around 25 knots and there was an uncomfortable surge. Fortunately by 1:00am on Saturday morning the wind was very gentle so we upped anchor and in the inky blackness worked our way out of the harbour and towards the east. I chose a route that would take us close inshore, inside the reefs that fringe the coast so that we would get as much shelter as possible from the large waves offshore. We had a few minor scares when we encountered unlit fishing boats bobbing around close to us, but otherwise made our way eastwards motoring into the light wind.
Remarkably close to dawn I picked up an AIS signal from the ‘three musketeers’ who had been anchored in Salinas and had chosen the same weather window as us to continue their journey. But as we reached a part of the coast where it was no longer possible to stay inside the reefs, both the wind and the seas started to build significantly. By around 8:00am we had headwinds of up to 30 knots and large steep seas with only a few seconds interval between the wave crests that were completely covering the deck in green water as we ploughed our way through them. To make things worse as we rounded the various headlands we encountered an adverse current that meant that our progress along the coast at times reduced to as little as 2 knots.
A couple of boats passed us going the other way, downwind. I called them on the VHF and they too had set out earlier that day but had decided that the conditions were too uncomfortable for them to continue. But I really didn’t want to have to go back to Ponce as if we did it was quite possible that we would have to spend another week there. The alternative anchorage at Salinas was probably too shallow for us. So we pressed on.
It was all very uncomfortable and combined with the lack of sleep following an early start gave way to those small negative thoughts that normally hide away at the back of my mind but come out to play in situations such as this, whispering in my mind’s ear ‘Why the hell are you doing this? You could be at home in a warm bed’.
By around 11:00am we were off Palmas del Mar, a modern marina on the south east corner of Puerto Rico that I knew as we had stayed there a year before. It had a very narrow opening in shallow water that faced directly into the waves so I was not at all sure that attempting an entry in those conditions would be a good idea. I called them by radio and asked them for a report on the state of the entrance channel. They were confident that there was no danger, so we readied the boat and shot towards the entrance. It was a little hairy with lots of white water and some quite prominent rocks close to the approach but we managed to get in without any problems and we were very glad to be soon tied up to a concrete berth and able to step ashore and order a cooked brunch in the marina’s restaurant.
It had taken about 11 hours to travel the 42 miles from Ponce and for a good part of that trip the conditions had been worse than anything we had encountered since leaving Annapolis about six months previously.